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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 7/14/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Bratwurst and space travel are both on the calendar for this coming weekend. First, the Vernon County Historical Society is hosting two grill-outs at Nelson Agri-Center in Viroqua. From 10AM to 2PM on Friday, July 19, and again on Saturday, July 20, we will be serving brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and pop.

Then, Viroqua astronaut Mark Lee will present a free public program about space exploration on Saturday, July 20, exactly 50 years since the first moon walk. The program will begin at 2PM at the Viroqua Elementary School’s Cafetorium. Lee will talk about his career with NASA and will answer audience questions. This event is co-sponsored by the Vernon County Historical Society, McIntosh Memorial Library, and the Viroqua Area Schools.

Mark Lee began his education in a one-room country school here in Vernon County. He attended Davis School in the Town of Jefferson, where he was taught by Pernille (Christenson) Parker. Pernille graduated from Viroqua High School in 1920, and from the Vernon County Normal School in 1921. She was part of the second class of prospective teachers to graduate from the then-new County Normal building.

On Saturday, July 27, we will celebrate the 100th birthday of the Vernon County Normal School building, home of today’s Vernon County Museum. We are throwing a party and open house from 1 to 4PM that day, complete with birthday cake. Everyone is welcome to attend.

An article written in the Vernon County Censor in September, 1919, when the school first opened, describes many of the building’s features that we still enjoy today: “The exterior is of substantial and pleasing appearance, rough art brick shading from dark to light, with figured frescoes appropriately placed, and the red tile roof rising to imposing height, giving it an air of dignity befitting its use and mission…. halls and stairways of beautiful terrazzo with wainscoting of Tennessee marble …wooden floors are all of maple laid upon concrete, and great steel supports and girders coated with plaster of Paris – all these unite in a construction scheme as nearly fire-proof and otherwise indestructible as human ingenuity can conjure forth.”

Come help us celebrate this landmark building’s first 100 years. A special feature of the day will be an opportunity for former students of the school, both Normal School students and Model School students, to do a brief oral history recording of a school memory.


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For the week of 7/7/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

50 years ago, humans first landed on the moon. In July of 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft successfully journeyed to the moon and back. As part of that journey, two American astronauts walked on the moon on July 20, 1969.

NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) tells us that, “The Apollo program officially began in 1963 after President John F. Kennedy directed NASA in September of 1962 to place humans on the Moon by the end of the decade. This was a formidable task as no hardware existed at the time that would accomplish the feat... On July 16, 1969, a Saturn V rocket launched three astronauts to the Moon on Apollo 11 from Cape Kennedy... On July 20, while astronaut and command module pilot Michael Collins orbited the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Eagle [a lunar module] on the Moon and set foot on the surface, accomplishing a first for humankind.”

To help celebrate this anniversary, Viroqua astronaut Mark Lee is presenting a free public program about space exploration on Saturday, July 20, exactly 50 years since that first moon walk. The program will begin at 2PM at the Viroqua Elementary School’s Cafetorium. Lee will talk about his career with NASA, and then will answer audience questions.

Mark Lee was born in Viroqua in 1952, one of six children in the family of Charles and Ruth Lee, who still live here. Mark graduated from Viroqua High School in 1970, from the Air Force Academy in 1974, and from M.I.T. in 1980. He became an F-16 fighter pilot in 1982, and was selected to become a NASA astronaut in 1984. He flew into space four times between 1989 and 1997. Now he is retired from NASA and the Air Force.

Another local person who had a career that involved the space program was Harold Felix. He was born at a La Crosse hospital in 1916 and grew up in Viroqua, graduating from Viroqua High School in 1934. Harold was the son of Max Felix and brother of Roland Felix, who ran Felix’s Clothing Store on Main Street in Viroqua. Harold left Wisconsin and worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company, first in Oklahoma and then in California. There he became the director of the Sacramento Test Center, which test fired the third stage of the Saturn rocket on the Apollo program. Harold Felix died in 2001.

Be sure to attend the July 20 event to learn more about the life of an astronaut. This event is co-sponsored by the Vernon County Historical Society, McIntosh Memorial Library, and the Viroqua Area Schools.

Also that weekend, the Historical Society is hosting two grill-outs at Nelson Agri-Center in Viroqua. From 10AM to 2PM on Friday, July 19, and again on Saturday, July 20, we will be serving brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and pop, for your summertime dining.


Mark Lee
Viroqua astronaut Mark Lee in 1995


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The previous two articles:

June 30, 2019

June 23, 2019